« Back to Blog

Leadership for Social Change

Posted on

04/18/17

Author

Ellie Happel

Haitian community leaders and Ellie conduct a survey on access to water in communities affected by mining in Haiti.

Ellie Happel is a social justice lawyer who has been working in Haiti for more than a decade. Since graduating law school, she has worked closely with various Haitian civil society groups and NYU Law School’s Global Justice Clinic on cases of forced eviction in the Internally Displaced People (IDP) Camps in Port-Au-Prince. She has a complaint filed against the United Nations over the introduction of cholera into Haiti, and most recently on issues involving hard metal mining. These are some of her observations.

CREATE SPACE

Leaders for social change create space for movements to thrive, change, and to reinvent themselves. Often, leaders rise not only because of who they are—their charisma or skills or vision—but because of privilege. Leaders acknowledge power and privilege, and work to create the space for those who are less privileged to speak, to contribute, to shine. Strong social movements push themselves to be more inclusive and more creative, and demand leadership that embraces plurality. Leaders invite movements to grow in size and to grow in imagination, to strive tomorrow for a dream that is unforeseen today. Strong leadership and strong movements embrace nonconformity and embrace change. They practice inclusivity.

GET PROXIMATE

Leaders get proximate. Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said “If you are not proximate, you cannot change the world.” Getting proximate means knowing the People, the masses, the Other. True proximity breeds empathy, and is possible only in the absence of fear. Proximity disappears the Other. It creates unity; differences are celebrated and respected, and a common vision is defined.

Leaders get proximate. Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said “If you are not proximate, you cannot change the world.” Getting proximate means knowing the People, the masses, the Other. True proximity breeds empathy, and is possible only in the absence of fear. Proximity disappears the Other. It creates unity; differences are celebrated and respected, and a common vision is defined.

PRINCIPLES OVER POPULARITY: THE POWER OF DISSENT

Leaders choose principles over popularity. They not only document injustice, but they demand action to change the status quo. They are the authors of (unpopular) dissent. Justice Harlan was the lone dissent in the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson, arguing that the Constitution is color-blind. It took 58 years before Brown v. Board, when the Court made this the law of the land. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously dissented to promote free speech. Recently, Justice Sotomayor has authored dissenting opinions to document and criticize the racial discrimination in our criminal justice system. The authors of dissenting opinions and the promoters of unpopular ideas are rarely

Leaders choose principles over popularity. They not only document injustice, but they demand action to change the status quo. They are the authors of (unpopular) dissent. Justice Harlan was the lone dissent in the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson, arguing that the Constitution is color-blind. It took 58 years before Brown v. Board, when the Court made this the law of the land. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously dissented to promote free speech. Recently, Justice Sotomayor has authored dissenting opinions to document and criticize the racial discrimination in our criminal justice system. The authors of dissenting opinions and the promoters of unpopular ideas are rarely identified as leaders. They should be. In dissenting, in voicing the unpopular, they encourage alternative visions and promote change.

DARE TO CHANGE COURSE

Leaders dare to change course. Two examples are Toussaint Louverture, leader of the Haitian revolution, and Ernest Shackleton. Toussaint Louverture allied with the Spanish, the French, and then fought for Haiti’s independence, the only slave revolt to result in a sovereign nation. According to C.L.R.E. James’ account, The Black Jacobins, from the beginning Louverture had a singular goal: to abolish slavery and create a free Haiti.

Sir Ernest Shackleton led a team of 27 men in an attempt to cross the Antarctic continent. Shackleton is famous not for the transverse—they failed—but for keeping every member of his team alive. Shackleton led his team away from their ship, frozen in the ice, on a two-year journey for survival. Along the way, Shackleton “got proximate.” Shackleton did not use his position of leadership to insulate himself from the pain of the journey. The ship’s captain, Frank Worsley, said that it was Shackleton’s rule that “any deprivation should be felt by himself before anyone else.” For more, go to: bit.ly/1qpL7G8

LEADERSHIP FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

Movements make the leader as much as the leader makes the movement. Leaders for social change encourage broad, ambitious, inclusive social movements. They not only listen to the people, but they work in close enough proximity to know the people, and they give the movement the space it needs to thrive. Leading for social change is less about individual qualities of character than about the back and forth between leaders and the masses, the process of collectively dreaming and redesigning a more just world.

ELLIE HAPPEL’S first experience with Dragons was on a summer program in Dolpo, Nepal. Ellie was later admitted to NYU Law School as a Root Tilden Kern scholar in 2008 where she focused on racial justice issues. She has since worked on environmental justice and public health issues in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru and Washington, D.C. Ellie has led Dragons programs in Guatemala, India, and Peru. She most recently led Dragons Fall 2016 Andes and Amazon Semester

No Comments Yet

Be the first to start a conversation

Leave a Comment

Fields marked with * are required